Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, born August 28, 1749, Frankfurt. German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic, and amateur artist, considered the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. Goethe was one of the very few figures of Germany’s 18th-century literary renaissance who were, in the full sense of the term, bourgeois. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he had no need, at least in the first half of his life, to seek princely patronage of his writing or employment as an official or an academic. Goethe was educated with his sister at home by tutors until he was 16. In 1765 Goethe left home to study law in Leipzig. Goethe had in almost-finished form a biblical play and a moralistic novel when he entered the university, but, afte
r reading them to his friends, he ostentatiously burned them as unworthy of his now advanced taste and started to write erotic verse and a pastoral drama. He fell in love with the daughter of an innkeeper, but she preferred someone more solid, a lawyer. Goethe took revenge by starting his first mature play, “Partners in Guilt”, a verse comedy showing a woman’s regrets after a year of marriage to the wrong man. Goethe’s journey to the Italian peninsula and Sicily in 1786 was of great significance in his aesthetic and philosophical development. After 1793, Goethe devoted his endeavours primarily to literature. In 1832, Goethe died in Weimar of apparent heart failure. His last words, according to his doctor Carl Vogel, were, Mehr Licht! (More light!).
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